As the coronavirus outbreak continues to hobble businesses throughout the country, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced plans intended to help Arkansas businesses remain solvent during the public health crisis.
Many businesses in Arkansas, according to Hutchinson, are facing difficult decisions caused by the coronavirus crisis. These difficulties include making payroll, making possible lay-offs, and more.
During a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Hutchinson announced that the state will be issuing millions in grants and bridge loans to help businesses shore up their finances. There will be $12 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds that will be made available, as well as $4 million for bridge loans from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Funds.
The CDBG funds will prioritize businesses and companies that are essential to combating the coronavirus outbreak. Hutchinson said hospitals and other essential supply chain companies would likely be the first recipients.
Administered by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department, CDBG program funds allow states to “address a wide range of unique community development needs” according to the HUD website. This includes providing affordable housing, creating jobs by expanding and retaining businesses, and more.
Hutchinson said he participated in a earlier call with fellow governors, where the participants called on the federal government to provide the maximum amount of flexibility for the CDGB funds to tailor-make their relief and emergency efforts.
In addition to the CDGB funds, the state will be doling at $4 million from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund (QACF). Established in 2007, this fund is designed to allow the state’s governor to act quickly in competitive business situation to finalize agreements with employers.
These funds will be used for bridge loans for businesses, up to $250,000.
Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston called this move “unprecedented,” noting that there is an immediate need for this measure. He says that having this funding will be “impactful” for businesses, especially those that are judged to be in the supply chain of “essential needs and services,” including food production and logistics.
In addition, Hutchinson has filed a formal request for disaster relief for small businesses in Arkansas. Once approved, he said this will up loans up to $2 million for individual businesses to allow them to ride out the coronavirus pubic health crisis.
Hutchinson acknowledged that the state would not be able to save or cover the loss of every business in Arkansas, but it would work to ease the burdens they face.
One of the difficulties businesses are facing is the lack of childcare options in the state. Employees may have to remain home in order to take care of children because of school and daycare closures. Since the beginning of the outbreak, more than 800 daycares in the state have closed. According to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Cindy Gillespie, there are approximately 1,200 daycares still in operation.
To encourage their continued operation, the department is providing incentives for childcare. This will come in the form of vouchers that will be available through March 27 and will be reevaluated at that time. According to Gillespie, these incentives will include an additional $10 for infants, an additional $7 for preschoolers, and an additional $5 for school-aged students.
The department is also relaxing certain daycare requirements, including allowing centers to mix children ages five through 12.
Statewide systems are facing a strain due to the coronavirus. According to Preston, unemployment is rising, and the system is facing the largest influx of unemployment applications since 2008. He says a statewide call system for unemployment will be operational by Friday.
Hutchinson also mentioned the possibility of delaying the tax filing deadline. He offered no significant details but said that state officials were exploring the possibility and determining the cost of the move.
He assured viewers that the state would continue to support businesses and keeping the economy going. An unnamed national media outlet reportedly contacted Hutchinson, asking him if he planned to close the state’s borders. Hutchinson assured the press conference crowd that he had no intention to do so.
The increased economic assistance comes as the state saw the single greatest increase of coronavirus positive cases in a single day. Arkansas officials announced that there have currently 33 positive cases, an increase of 11 positive cases.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, there are a total of 33 presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in the state across 10 counties. These counties include Cleburne, Cleveland, Desha, Faulkner, Garland, Jefferson, Lincoln, Pulaski, Saline, and Washington counties.
There are currently 50 individuals under investigation for possible coronavirus infection. In addition, 377 individuals are being monitored daily by ADH because of an identified risk. The ADH has received negative test results for 236 previous persons under investigation.
According to Hutchinson, testing capacity is growing. “Our testing capacity is increasing – not as fast as we all wanted,” he says.
UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson, provided an example of the increased strain healthcare is facing. Before yesterday, UAMS had performed 500 screenings. Yesterday alone, UAMS workers performed 500 coronavirus screenings.
Patterson also warned that the supply of personal protective equipment should be a source of concern. He notes that the “burn rate” of equipment can be “substantial” when treating a single coronavirus patient.
Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith says that the majority of coronavirus cases can be attributed to known coronavirus contact or known travels. However, he notes that the department’s investigations are not completed. In the travel cases, one case has been attributed to travel to France, two cases to India and six cases to domestic travel, including to Chicago; New Orleans; Colorado; and Springfield, Mo.